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sentimentality, and where it gets you

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They have a routine. Nothing like a schedule, really. But there’s a semblance of structure, patterns they follow. They've had a lot of time to develop it. If this, then this. Life is just a series of reactions to circumstance.

They pass a car on the side of the road. Both of them glance at it in the rear-view mirror, then share a look. She shrugs. They can’t afford to pass up petrol. He slows, pulls the car into a three point turn, doubles back. They’re on a highway, but things like lanes and traffic violations don’t really matter anymore. They haven't passed another driver in weeks.

There’s movement in the car when they roll to a stop behind it. They share another look. He leaves their engine running, his door open. Hers is shut but her window is down. She can fit through it if she has to, he can't. Habits she’s had to learn, ones he’d had from the beginning. They both draw their guns. She misses her old pistol with the silencer. His Linebaugh is heavier than she’s used to but she’s not stupid enough to think she could use the shotgun effectively and he hadn’t even suggested letting her try. They pinser around the car, him to the left and her to the right. The movement inside stops. For about three seconds. And then hands slam into the window of the back passenger side.

She’d been expecting it and she still jumps. The body inside is half-rotted, flesh near to sloughing off, exposed bone in the hands and wrists when it bangs against the window. Muted through the glass and steel, the gurgling growls. The wight inside is young. Very young. A child. Decomposed enough to make determining sex impossible and missing a leg. The leg is laying on the floorboards. The bones of it are, anyway. Some tendon stills connects the fibula and the tibia in strings. Wights are stupid when it comes to feeding. They'll eat their own skin if it falls off fresh enough. It crawls from one side of the backseat to the other, pounding open-palmed on the windows as if unable to decide if it wants to threaten him on the left or her on the right. The two of them finish their circuit around the car wordlessly.

“Just this?” he asks once they’ve met back up at the hood of the car. Could be bait. Scavs do that sometimes. Leave traps for other scavs. Something nice guarded by a wight. Focus too much on how dangerous the dead are and you forget the living are dangerous too.

She closes her eyes, dips into that place inside of her that she doesn’t fully understand, and reaches . Touching wights is like leaning over the side of an endless, fathomless hole in the ground, staring into the darkness and trying to squint to see if there’s light at the bottom, praying you don’t tip over and fall into the hole yourself. It’s like that, and it’s also like standing just outside the range of a rabid dog tethered to a wall, seeing the teeth snapping and hearing the growls and feeling the rush of air as it lunges at you, stopping scant centimeters away, and praying that the tether holds. And more than either of those things it’s cold. It’s very, incredibly cold.

She only feels the one. She touches it, to make sure. Digs. Digging can be hard sometimes. It's easier with people. Wights don't really have thoughts, they just have impressions. Beneath the fathomless nothing, beneath the snarling animal fury, she feels the overwhelming hunger, the coldness, the pain. The wight hasn't eaten in so long, so long. It hasn't seen anyone in so long. It's hungry, if they open the car door it can eat. It wants her to open the door. It's hungry! Open it!

Pulling back into herself is dizzying. When she stumbles back into awareness of her own body he catches her, a hand on her arm. His eyes are still searching their surroundings. “Someone left it here a while ago,” she says. "If it was a trap I doubt they'd have stuck around for it."

They don’t shoot the wight. Waste of bullets, too much noise. Who knows what’s in the woods around them. Don’t want to draw attention. Just in case. The body is too young and too weak and too rotted to be able to break through the windows. Disconcerting, to have it growling and gurgling and shuffling inside as they work. She’s used to ignoring that by now.

He pulls their car alongside the wight’s. Gets the hose from the trunk, sets it up and sucks at one end of it to start the siphon. She grabs the solar panel and the sat radio, climbs onto the roof of their car and unfolds the panel to get it charging. He only ever lets them set the radio to one frequency. No one else has ever tuned into it. She doesn’t see the point anymore. But they have their routines. She uses the solar panel to charge the radio and their phone. The phone is useless for purposes of communication, but they use the alarm and the flashlight app regularly. While she sits she keeps an eye out.

They’re somewhere in the Riverlands. Doesn’t matter where. They don’t have a destination anymore. They just stay on the move. The road is empty around them, trees to either side. This is the first car they’ve passed in a few days. Not uncommon. They're in the middle of nowhere. Sometimes, though, there are wights wandering through the woods. Sometimes they don’t scream when they see you. Sometimes they sneak up, silent as they can be on rotten feet. It’s quiet here on the road but she’s learned to be cautious.

There’s a bird singing somewhere close by, in the trees. The Riverlands in summer is beautiful and green. She almost hates the resilience of nature. Life is shit and the human race is dead but the trees still have leaves and the birds still sing.

He pulls the hose from his mouth, spits out petrol, sticks the end of it into the intake of their tank. She watches silently. They’re both silent. They don't talk much anymore. Years to get through the small talk. Familiarity. Not much to say. They used to have a second hose. He’d put them both into the tank they were taking petrol from, blow on the end of the second one, and the petrol would shoot right out through the first hose and into their tank. Physics or something. She didn’t get to have much formal education. Sometimes when she thinks about how little she actually knows about the world she feels stupid, but it’s not her fault. It’s not really anybody’s fault. Doesn't matter anyway. Wights don't give a fuck about physics or trigonometry or old Valyrian poetry. They don't give a fuck about anything but eating.

She misses that second hose, though. It’d gotten left behind when they’d last switched cars. Even as meticulous as he is he sometimes makes mistakes.

Siphon started, he leans against the side of the car. It’d be almost casual except that he still holds his shotgun at the ready. She stares down at the top of his head from where she sits on the roof. If she touches his hair it will feel greasy. She wants to touch his hair anyway. She doesn’t. He won’t appreciate it. He’s been in a sour mood for a few days now. He hates being dirty. They’ve been avoiding the rivers since the last time they’d run into a camp and had to fight their way back out. She’d lost her old pistol then. He doesn't blame her. It wasn't her fault. Just shitty luck. He isn't petty like that. But him not blaming her doesn't change that they don't go to the rivers anymore. Stupid girl.

The wight bangs around inside the other car. If she tries to reach to it to calm it she knows it won’t work. She stopped trying that a long time ago. She still wants to try anyway. She doesn’t.  It doesn’t make them angrier, because they don’t feel anger. It makes them hungrier. They don’t feel anything but hunger and they’re always hungry.

Their phone, still charging with the solar panel, starts vibrating. Their daily alarm. She reaches to cut it off immediately before it can make too much noise. They exchange looks again and she hands him the sat radio.

He switches it on, sets the volume low. Doesn’t touch the frequency dial. He never does. He still checks it every time anyway. She can never decide if he checks it to make sure it wasn’t jostled in their backpacks or if he’s making sure she hasn’t messed with it. She used to ask to use it to see if she could contact Jon. Jon was supposed to be dead but sometimes she still hoped. She tried, once. When she was younger. Snuck it out of his pack and switched it on, fiddled with the frequency. Tried to find some sort of noise besides static. They used to pick up transmissions between bandits. He stopped letting her listen after the thing with the Freys. After that they only used the radio for his frequency, his little clicks that no one ever answers. It wasn’t fair. So she took it while he was asleep and listened.

He found out. Of course he did. He’d been furious. Of course he had. Fury on him is scarier than any wight. She knows what wights want, what they can do. She’s not really scared of wights anymore. People, though. People scare her. Even him. Especially him. She needs him and she trusts him, but she never lets herself forget that fear.

He’d left her. Just took his shit, all of it, and drove off. She waited for an hour and then started walking. He came back eventually. Before she’d gone more than a mile or two on foot. She’s too useful to leave for good and he knows it. She didn’t apologize. Neither did he. They don’t talk about it. She doesn’t ask to use the radio anymore. He still checks the frequency every day. She was younger then. She didn’t get it. People didn’t scare her yet. She gets it now. She may not have found Jon, but she could have found someone, and then that someone could have found her.

There’s just white noise on the radio. Static. He clicks the microphone. Two clicks. It makes a pipping noise. He waits a few minutes before doing it again. They’re creatures of routine. No response. After five minutes he sighs, hands the radio back to her. She turns it off, plugs it back in to charge. She reaches down and runs her fingers through his hair. She was right, he doesn’t appreciate it. But he still lets her. Sometimes they are fluid, seamless, two halves of a whole. They’re like this when they fight together, when they’re scavenging. They don't have to talk, they just do. Sometimes they are a give and take, and one must allow the other concessions. They are like this when things are calm. The breaths in between the life and death. It took them both a while to get used to it. That's fine. They've had time. They're accustomed.

When the siphon gets as much petrol as it can from the other car they get ready to go. They do another circuit, look inside the windows. She reaches , distracts the wight into focusing on her while he inspects as closely as he can. She can keep its attention for now, but they’ll need to put it down if he has to open a door. It wants her to open a door. Open it! It's hungry! After a minute he touches her shoulder, breaks her concentration. She pulls away from the wight. It feels hungry and cold. Now she does too. Nothing of use in the car. He steers her towards their own, carefully takes his Linebaugh from her hands. They're trembling. She doesn’t touch the wights and dig in except for when there’s only one, or when they’re scouting. Never when she’s alone. Never when he’s not there with a gun to keep watch. Touching is easy in short bursts but digging is hard.

The petrol they’d taken adds a third of a tank to their car. Not much, not as much as they’d hoped, but worth the stop. They don’t have a schedule. No reason not to delay. There’s no destination. They take what they can get.

They don’t shoot the wight. They leave it in the car, still gurgling, still shuffling. Waste of bullets. It’s not a person anymore, it wouldn’t even be a mercy kill. It’s just hungry. Someday soon, enclosed in the car and trapped in the heat of summer, it’ll just melt. Turn to goo. It’ll lose its skin and organs and muscles. Eventually its brain will become mush. Then it won’t be anything. Not even hungry.

They drive. Back on the highway, miles pass. Trees pass. Her stomach grumbles. Reaching always makes her metabolism speed up. It’s a downside, but the ability is too useful not to use. They’ve got a box of protein bars they scavenged from the last rest stop they’d passed a few days ago. They ration, usually. He’s strict about food since she needs more of it than a normal girl her size. They count calories, ingest only what they need. But she touched the wight twice on his direction and if she takes an extra meal today she knows he won’t stop her. She still doesn’t.

After a few hours they switch seats and he naps, his forehead pressed against the window. Her hands are tight on the wheel as she drives. He’d had to teach her how. Every time she drives she has to push the seat forward nearly a foot to reach the pedals. She feels cold and hungry. It’s hitting her harder than usual. Maybe because the wight was so young. Maybe because the body was so damaged. A lot of possible factors. She still doesn’t understand how or why she can do the things she can do or how they work. She was supposed to go North, to the Wall. Yoren said the Night’s Watch would figure it out why she was immune. That was their job. She thought maybe they could tell her about reaching too. Maybe they could work on that. Plus, Jon was at the Wall. Jon mattered more than reaching . But then Yoren died. So did Jon. The Wall fell. Not much mattered at all after that. She never got any answers. Life goes on.

She drives until her hands are shaking so much that her grip on the wheel is compromised, and then she pulls over to the side of the road. Long stretch of highway. Still nothing but trees. He wakes up when the tires slide from pavement to grass, when the car begins to rattle over uneven terrain. He looks at her for explanation, sees the trembling. His lips thin. He leans over to reach behind them, grabs his pack from the backseat. Pulls out their dinner. They’re eating early but neither of them comment. He's not especially sentimental. He shows concern in practical ways.

All that’s left of edible food these days is canned shit or shit with too many preservatives. They'll need to find something to raid soon. They're always running low on food and toiletries. They eat a couple of the protein bars and split a can of Spam. The meat tastes like brine but she eats it. After a few minutes the trembling stops. She sends him an apologetic look. He shakes his head. Not her fault. She knows it but it's nice that he knows it too. They get back on the road. She drives again, but it’s easier for her to concentrate. He’s awake but they don’t talk. They don’t really, not if they don’t have to. They usually don't have to. They’ve been with each other long enough that they don’t need to keep the other entertained. The rest of the day passes wordlessly.

When they stop for the night he gets out of the car and scouts while she stays behind. Normally she would scout instead, but somehow she knows in her gut that if she reaches and touches another wight the trembling will start again. When she tells him this he accepts it without dispute. If she starts trembling again it'll be harder to stop.

She can do it for a while but there’s a limit. That limit is never concrete. She knows that irritates him because it's an unknown, a constantly shifting factor. Sometimes she can reach out and touch a dozen wights in a day without shaking. Sometimes she gets nauseous just from touching one. They don't know why. Could be her. Could be the wights. Who knows. She had a seizure once. It wasn’t great. They don’t want a repeat. Touching him is easier. Touching humans is easier than touching wights anyway, but sometimes that's still a challenge to reach out and then pull back into herself without getting discombobulated. He's easy. She can slip into him like breathing. Familiarity, probably. Saturation by proximity. She knows him so intimately that it doesn't hurt to reach for him. She keeps her eyes on the road and the woods, and half her awareness on him. He feels warm. Sharp. He always feels sharp. When she touches him she feels the air in his lungs, the beat of his heart. It tastes like ginger and cloves. She matches her breaths to his. She knows when he comes back, isn’t surprised when he opens the door. She feels herself in his bones. He’s a liar. She doesn’t know how or about what, but he is. He always has been. It doesn’t matter anymore. She pulls away from his warmth. Cold, and hunger. Sometimes she doesn't know if she wants to be like him or if she wants to be him or if she wants to consume him. Sometimes she wonders if she's just a wight that hasn't started rotting yet.

There’s a clearing a quarter mile off the road. They switch places again so he can drive through the forest, carefully dodging trees. It’s inconvenient, but they don’t leave the car behind and they don’t camp out in the open anymore. They’re not the only scavengers.

They park, pull out their blankets. They take turns sleeping in the backseat. Whoever's not on watch gets it. He barely fits and has to curl up, but it’s more comfortable than sleeping upright in one of the front seats. He's got first watch, so she stretches out in the back. He’s not surprised when she pulls at his shirt for him to join her. He does, sometimes, after she digs into wights. She gets cold. He warms her. She gets hungry. He fills her.

She rides him, sitting in his lap. His cock is thick, hard inside her. His hair is greasy between her fingers. She pulls it anyway. His mouth tastes like Spam and petrol. She kisses it anyway. His hands touch her breasts, her stomach. His thumb rubs her clit, below that to the place where he thrusts into her. He’s the only man she’s ever fucked. She’s been fucking him since she was probably too young to be acceptable. Neither of them care about that. He’s warm and he fills her up, so she doesn’t care. He’s not a particularly good man, so he doesn’t care either. Her parents are dead. The cops are dead. Anyone who would care is dead. So she fucks him.

She doesn’t take all her clothes off because she's in too much of a hurry to feel warm, but he likes her tits so he pulls her shirt up and tugs one out of her bra. He puts his mouth to her, lips around her nipple, tongue wet. She holds his face close, throws her head back. Gasps in time with his licks, his cock twitching inside her. He’s so fucking big, bigger than her fingers. Sometimes she feels like he’s going to split her in half. Sometimes it hurts. Sometimes when he's rough she bleeds afterwards. She likes it. She likes feeling something. Better than nothing. She'll take what she can get.

He bites her nipple. She keens. He chases the sound, kissing the swollen bud before moving his lips up, over the bunched fabric of her shirt. He kisses her throat. He kisses her mouth. She touches her tongue to his, licks into him. Petrol. Gods she misses that second hose. He swallows her moans, shushes her. She can’t afford to be loud. They’re quiet tonight, just the gasps and grunts of sex, but sometimes he talks to her. Sometimes he tells her how much he wants to hear her screaming, how much he wants to make her scream. She would. She’d scream. She has to stop herself from screaming now.

His thumb presses harder. Her clit throbs. When she comes he holds her mouth to his harshly, muffling the noises she makes. He growls when her cunt tightens, grinds in hard when she rocks desperately into him. When her whimpering stops and her twitching stills he pushes her onto her back, her knees up against his sides. He kneels in the space between her thighs. She’s so wet that his cock had slipped out when he shoved her over. They both hiss when he drives himself back in. The noise of their skin meeting is obscene, the moist slap of his testicles to the dripping lips of her twat. She lays back, spent. Soft noises punch out of her each time he thrusts.

Her other breast slips free of its cup. One of his hands on her hip to steady her as he fucks into her, the other raises to palm her tit. They bounce with the force of him, nipples hard and pink. He scrapes one with the nail of his thumb. It’s wet from her cunt, leaves a light glisten on her nipple. He growls again and bends to take it into his mouth. She knows what it tastes like. Sometimes when he fucks her he makes her lick him clean afterwards. She doesn’t mind. He returns the favor often enough.

The bend of his spine brings his hips even closer. His cock pounds deeper, deep enough that when the pleasure of her orgasm has faded it hurts. Like a pinch inside her. It’s a good hurt. No. It’s a bad hurt but she likes it and that makes it a good hurt.

He pulls her bra down further. She knows what he wants, but she likes this bra. It took a while to find another one that fit after he’d torn the last one. She puts a hand against his chest. He stops. She doesn’t like that. No, she does. She doesn’t like that he stops because she likes feeling him inside her but she likes that he does when she asks him to. She leans up, braces one hand on the seat behind her. He helps her unlatch the clapses. His eyes are fathomless and she stares into them. They slip off her shirt, her bra. His cock is still inside her, hard. To the hilt. Unyielding. When she squeezes the muscles of her cunt around it his hips rock forward. His balls meet the outer lips of her vagina with a wet slap.

She lays back again, lets him use her. One hand raises up over her head, the other hangs off the side of the seat. Their fluids will stain the fabric. Neither of them care. It’s already stained. Cum and sweat and blood. Not like resell value matters anymore. The thought makes her huff a laugh. He pounds into her. Not for the first time she wonders if maybe he doesn’t have her reach for wights on purpose to make her cold, so he can warm her. But no. He’s too practical. He likes her cunt but he can get it for free. No need to risk trembling hands when she’s holding a gun.

Her tits sway. He’s watching them. She knows because she’s watching him. His cock twitches inside her. She could come again, but he’s too close to his own peak to get her there first and he’s earned his reward. She bites her lip when he pulls out. Her cunt squeezes around nothing. The emptiness leaves her feeling bereft, but he doesn’t come inside her anymore. He crawls forward on his knees, leans over her chest, thighs to either side of her stomach. He takes his cock in hand, pumps it hard several times. When he comes it’s quietly, nothing like her moaning and thrashing like a bitch in heat. He just breathes heavily, eyes on her tits as he comes on them messily. It's warm on her skin, viscous. Some reaches as high as her throat. Most of it is around her nipples. He sits back, panting, observing his handiwork. He likes to do that.

They kiss afterwards. Sometimes they don't. It depends on his mood, on her mood. Sometimes when they fuck they don't kiss at all. Tonight he draws her close, cleans the come off her chest. He kisses her. Soft. She likes when he's soft. It makes her feel soft too. She doesn't get to feel soft often. It's novel. His mouth still tastes like petrol but it tastes like his spunk too from where he'd licked it from her tits. They kiss and he watches while she brings herself off again with his hand, riding in his lap once more. After she comes she sucks his fingers clean. They kiss again. She likes kissing him.

He returns to the front seat. He's got first watch. It's why he napped earlier. She's sated. Warm. Not hungry, not anymore. The car smells like sex and sweat. Part of the fabric of the seat is still wet. She curls around it to avoid laying in it. Sleep comes easy.

He shakes her awake for her watch. The world is dark. Crickets chirp around him, cicadas scream. Somewhere far away an owl hoots. The Riverlands at night is not quiet. The resiliency of nature. "Lovely girl," he murmurs. It's the first time either of them have spoken since the afternoon before, when they'd first found the car with the wight in it. He kisses her when she stirs. It's easier for him to be affectionate at night. His mouth doesn't taste like petrol anymore.

They switch places. He curls up in the backseat, she sits behind the wheel. After a few minutes he begins to snore softly. He swears he doesn't. She doesn't care enough about being right to record it. She knows she is.

A few hours pass. Something outside moves, dry crackling of leaves beneath its feet. She doesn't turn the lights on and her eyes strain against the darkness. The something bumps into the hood of the car. His snores cease abruptly. The something gurgles. She reaches. It's cold. And hungry. She digs.

Go away , she tells it. There's no one here.

It doesn't say anything back. It's hungry. It's so hungry. No one here, she promises. It listens. Sometimes they don't. The wight groans and shuffles off, noises disappearing into the night.

They don't speak. His snoring doesn't resume, not for a long time. She holds her hands in her lap to keep them from shaking, his Linebaugh on the console. In the morning, after he scouts around and finds no wights, he fucks her again, slower, deeper. It hurts and she winces but when he tries to stop she doesn't let him. Hurt is better than cold. Hurt is better than hungry. Afterwards she eats a protein bar and he drives them back out of the woods.

The road keeps going and so do they.

 


 

They met when she was young. Younger. Probably too young, considering what they do to each other now.

Yoren was still alive then. He'd pulled her from King's Landing before the riots could really get into full swing. Her dad had only just died and she didn't know where her sister was, but the first outbreak had already started and Yoren wanted to get her North when he found out she was immune. Doesn't matter now. Anyway. He was still alive.

There was a convoy. People going to the Wall. Most of them were refugees Yoren picked up. Kids like her. In the wrong place at the wrong time kind of kids. None of them were special like her though. At first she was just special because of her dad. Then she was special because she couldn’t get infected. Yoren was the only one besides her who knew that though.

Some of them weren't kids. The Watch needed conscripts and wasn't picky. The Wall couldn’t afford to be.

The world valiantly lasted a few days before everything went completely to shit. The infection spread like a fire in a drought. King’s Landing declared a state of emergency for the entire country and then went dark three days later. Television went down. Internet went down. Yoren used his sat radio to keep in contact with the Watch. She got to talk to Jon, once. Reception wasn’t great. Yoren promised her that was normal that far North. Jon called her little sister and told her he loved her and everything would be alright. That was the last time she ever heard his voice. She remembers the way it crackled with static when he said her name. The sweetest sound she's ever heard.

She met him when the convoy had stopped a day or so south of Harrenhal. They originally planned to stop in the city until communications with the HPD ceased, too. Well. Communications didn’t cease. Whoever was on the other end of the sat radio died without turning it off. For the first few hours that Yoren checked the frequency they heard screaming. After that they just heard growling. Plans changed. They were going to navigate around Harrenhal instead. Nobody argued.

He was one of the convicts the Watch picked up for conscription. She’d heard rumors about what they did with conscripts up at the Wall. Sent them further North, except for the ones they experimented on. She’d asked uncle Benjen about it when she was a kid, if they actually experimented on people. Uncle Benjen had just smiled and told her she was very imaginative. She wonders sometimes if she could reach back then and pluck the thoughts from his head, what would she find?

There were two others like him. Other convicts, that is. They weren’t very much like him at all beyond that. He was handsome and the other two weren’t. One of them didn’t talk. He just hissed. He smelled funny and she didn’t like him.

He was cleaning a gun. A big fucking gun. She didn’t know much about guns, except that her older brothers liked them. When she was little Robb and Jon would take her out to the woods and put giant headphones over her ears and stand behind her, hold her steady while she aimed Robb’s pistol and shot at a target taped to a tree.

They’d made eye contact. He’d smiled at her. On a whim, because she was still trying to figure it out, she reached out and touched him. He was warm and smelled like ginger and cloves and he was a liar. She didn’t know how she knew that. She just did. He was a liar. And he felt her reaching , she knew that too, because he stopped smiling. Nobody had ever felt her before. He stared at her. She hurried away.

The night the wights attacked they came out of the forest. Yoren died fast. There were ten cars for forty people. Thirteen people drove away. Two of the cars were turned over by the wights. They were smarter then, not so stupid with brainrot. They still swarmed. One of the cars crashed into a tree. The people that didn't get to a car were killed or started running. She hid in a tree. The wights couldn’t climb trees. Or maybe they could and just didn't realize it. Semantics. Doesn't matter. She watched Yoren get back up. His eyes were blue and his neck was torn open. But he was still moving.

It was a long night. The wights that didn't chase after people stuck around eating. Wights are stupid. They don't actually care about killing anyone. They just want to eat, and they only want to eat people that are alive. So they bite and they eat a little and then the people die and the wights lose interest and want to look for more people. And then those dead people become wights and those wights are hungry too. Dead stupid idiots.

When the wights left behind got bored of eating they'd wander. Whenever one of them got too close to her tree she reached . And she dug in. She'd never dug in before. There was a certain amount of influence she had, a certain level of communication they could share. Like screaming at a feral dog, or a bear, and hoping it was confused enough to back off. They were hungry, so hungry, so she gave them things. Commands, urges. Less words and more impressions. Go away , she told them. And away they went. After a couple hours passed she'd touched so many wights that she vomited. Shortly before dawn she was shivering so hard that when she startled at the sound of a gunshot she fell out of her tree.

Chance brought them together again. He’d come back the morning after the attack for Yoren’s sat radio and the two others were with him. He heard her hit the ground when she fell. When she came to his big fucking gun was in her face. The man without a nose was kicking at the last wight she’d sent away. He’d just shot it. The man with pointed teeth was making hissing noises and staring at her. His arm was bleeding. Something was wrong with him. He still smelled funny. No, he smelled worse. She reached .

He was hungry.

Him , the handsome man with white streaks in his hair, cocked his head like a bird. He still had his gun pointed at her. She told him, “That one’s going to turn soon. He got bit, didn’t he? A few hours ago. When the wights came. He’s going to be one of them.” And she pointed to the hissing man.

The man with no nose whirled to her. “Shut the fuck up! He’s fine! He cut his arm!”

He raised an eyebrow. “How does a girl know he was bitten?” He had an accent she'd never heard before. She shrugged. She didn’t know how she knew. She just did.

“She’s lying!” the noseless man yelled. She wanted to shush him. There were still wights in the area. But she didn't because he started pointing his gun at her too. “He’s fine! Stupid bitch is lying!”

The foreign man considered her thoughtfully. He turned to his companion. “No, she’s not,” he said, and lifted his gun from her to shoot the noseless man in the head. Then he turned and shot the other man, the one who’d been bitten. The movement was easy. Over in two seconds. Almost practiced. He didn’t even blink.

She’d never seen someone kill someone else before. She almost saw her dad die, but then Yoren pulled her away. She’d seen wights kill people, and she’s seen people kill wights. In King’s Landing when the outbreak started. The night before. But the wights weren’t people , not anymore. It wasn’t the same as watching a man shoot another man in the head.

“This man is named Jaqen H’ghar,” he told her after he helped her to her feet. He’d holstered his gun.

She remembering reaching for him earlier, remembering touching him lightly. He was a liar. “No you’re not,” she said. He didn’t say anything to that. He just smiled at her again.

She probably shouldn’t have stayed with him.

She did anyway.

She still doesn’t know what his name is.

 


 

(They avoid towns and cities. Too high concentration of wights where human population used to be. They stick to country, to backroads, and loot what they can when they can. Sometimes, very rarely, they go to outposts and trade with other survivors. Usually when they're out of bullets. He asks around for information when they do. She listens. The infection is contained to Westeros. The Lannisters control King's Landing. Last she heard they'd walled up Flea Bottom and scourged the borough with fire. Essosi relief organizations airdrop supplies outside the major cities, but the planes never touch Westerosi soil. Can't risk contamination. Essos still lives. The sea protects them since wights can't swim. Most of these supplies are immediately taken by Lannisters or Freys. Scavengers like the two of them don't see any of it, not unless they kill for them. He avoids violence, when they can. She can't get infected but she can still get shot. They don't tell people she's immune. If there are others like her those people don't talk about it either, except for when they beg.

They eat wild vegetables when they have to, fish a lot. Fishing doesn’t require bullets. Once the road took them further South into the Reach and they lived in an abandoned farm house with an overgrown apple orchard for a full two months. It was the longest they’ve ever stayed in one place. They ate apples and trapped squirrels and rabbits that got into the little vegetable garden. They fucked in every room in the house and slept in an actual bed together and when the sheets got dirty they washed them by hand in the little creek out back and hung them out to dry. She started calling it home in her head. Stupid girl. Too sentimental. They got chased out by some assholes with a couple of AKs. They don't have a home. The road is home.

They scavenge, when they find places to scavenge from that aren’t infested. They can kill wights easily, especially when she reaches , but bullets are scarce these days. Nobody makes them anymore, and the first few years after the outbreak people used them a lot. The Lannisters and the Freys hoard all the weapons the Essosi airdrop. Another reason why they avoid wights. Too risky to get into melee range to try to behead them. They can do it if they have to. He’s got a machete. She’s got a baseball bat. She doesn’t have the arm strength that he does, can’t cut through the neck like he can. Shit stops moving when you beat it enough times in the head, though. Don’t need arm strength for that. Just good aim. Still. Too risky.

She won’t turn if she gets bitten, but he will. They still don’t know why she’s immune, why she’s able to reach . They never did make it to the Wall. They’d planned on it, before, even after Yoren died. Nowhere else to go. The Wall was their best bet. But then they heard over the sat radio about the Wall coming down, about the Watch being overrun. Picked up a transmission between some Frey bandits bragging about a massacre at Winterfell. She wanted to find the bandits. He said no. She left anyway. He followed.

When they eventually tracked down the Freys she reached out and touched them, verified the truth from their minds. Winterfell had been acting as a sanctuary for survivors in the North, safe from the outside because of its walls. It was sacked for supplies. The city was full of wights. The Wall had fallen. The Watch had ended. Her family was all dead. All of them. She could tell when people were lying when she touched them. The bandits weren’t.

She reached further. Found some wights in the woods nearby. She touched them, and they were hungry. She told them, I have food for you. And then she dug in, watched through their blue, blue eyes. And the Freys died. She'd never dug that hard before, or touched that many at once, or stayed in for so long. That’s when she had her seizure. That's when reaching started to make her hungry.

They stopped going North, and he stopped letting her listen to the sat radio.)

 


 

They need petrol, and a new tire for the back left wheel. They’re running low on ibuprofen. They’re always low on food. She needs tampons because the wights can smell blood.

South of Sherrer they find a small dirt road leading off of the main highway. There used to be a gate at the mouth of the driveway but it's rusted off the hinges. It lays on the ground. They share a glance before pulling in. A ranch house sits a half mile off the road. The windows and doors are intact. There’s a sedan of a similar size to theirs in the driveway. The roof of the house and the car alike are covered in leaves, the neglect of years. They roll to a halt.

She reaches . Two wights, in a basement. The house itself is empty. She doesn’t touch the wights, doesn’t dig into them. Unnecessary. “Two in the basement,” she says. Her hands are steady. He nods, grabs his Linebaugh and machete. She takes the baseball bat. He has better aim than she does and the shotgun is overkill for just two wights, and dangerous for the two of them in close quarters. Shouldn't waste the buckshot. He can pick the lock on the door but it’s easier to use her bat to punch in a window. No point in being quiet. She knocks as much jagged glass from the frame as she can before wrapping some towels around her hands and arms to protect them from cuts. He boosts her up and she slides into the house. It’s musty, smells like dust and mildew. There’s mold on the ceiling from the wet and rotten leaves collecting on the roof. Give it a year and the place will cave in. Maybe not even that long. She unlatches the front door for him and he slips through, closes it behind him.

They go from room to room together, opening doors and peeking inside and shutting them again. Her reaching has never been wrong before but he doesn’t like to take chances. They find the door to the basement. The stairs leading down are steep and dark and seem sturdy enough. The air stinks of rot. The light shining through the open door only illuminates the first half of the stairs and the top part of the back wall across from them. They can’t see inside beyond that. There’s the sound of movement, the rattling and gurgling noises wights make in place of breathing. They shut the door quietly. Bar it, drag a small chest-height bookshelf in front of it. Wights can’t open doors but they can beat them in. They’ll need to go down there eventually. People keep tools in basements. Might be weapons, guns hidden by the previous occupants. For now it’ll keep. It’s kept for this long.

Once they clear the house they split up. She takes the right half of the house with her pack and he takes the left with his. They’ll overlap, look behind each other. She’ll miss something and so will he and the other will find it. Nature of being human. They have their routines.

There’s a thin slime in the sink in the kitchen, the refuse of dirty dishes left to rot and fester and mold. She doesn’t bother opening the fridge, but checks cabinets. Canned vegetables, canned chicken, peanut butter. Dry pasta. Somehow this house has managed to avoid looters before them. The boxed goods have been chewed into by rodents but the cans look good. An unopened tin of mixed nuts. This she cracks into and chews on as she looks. The cashews crunch beneath her teeth, bursts of salt on her tongue. It’s euphoric. Oh gods, some of those cans of chunky stews. They’ll need to try to find another backpack or suitcase or something here to haul everything back to the car.

In the master bedroom she goes through the drawers and closets. No weapons that she can find, but there are some clothes that may fit him. A box of jewelry that would fetch a pretty penny if people still used money for currency. A lockbox beneath the bed. She can’t open it, but he may be able to pick it. All of this she dumps onto the mattress to sort through more finely. Jewelry is useless but she's heard that some of the people in King's Landing still play dress-up sometimes, pretend the world hasn't gone down the toilet. Might be they can trade with other scavs who trade with the Lannisters. She picks through the jewelry box, finds a little silver necklace with a little heart with little diamonds set in it. The silver is burnished brown but that can be buffed off. Sansa would love it.

The thought strikes abruptly, like a slap. She doesn't think about her family much these days. Or rather, she tries not to. Doesn't have the time or the energy. Why bother? They're dead and she's not. She blinks. Drops the little necklace back in the box. Stupid girl.

The door to the adjoining bathroom sticks. She reaches but doesn’t feel anything on the other side. She sets her shoulder against it and shoves until the door gives way. The window to the bathroom is broken and there’s a bird’s nest in the sink, animal shit on the floor. The medicine cabinet has two different kinds of prescription medicine in little orange bottles. She doesn’t recognize either of them. One says take as needed for pain and the other take one every 12 hours until gone . She throws them in her pack, just in case. Ibuprofen, acetaminophen. Both are half empty and she combines them into one bottle. Claritin and kid’s benadryl. He’ll want the Claritin. He’s allergic to ragweed, which grows in thick clusters in the South. The air conditioning in their last car didn't work and they'd drive with the windows down in the summer heat, his eyes red and streaming. She takes all this as well. The cabinets don’t have tampons, but there is an open bag of sanitary pads. She leaves these. Half of them have been shredded by some sort of animal. She picks the bird nest out of the sink and checks the faucet, just in case. No running water. It was a long shot.

One of the drawers is stocked like a first aid kit. Eyedrops. Neosporin. Two bottles of hydrogen peroxide, one unopened. She tests the opened one in the sink to see if it fizzes. It doesn’t, so she dumps it out and throws the emptied bottle to the side. Bandaids of varying sizes and compression bandages. A thermometer. An enema kit. Gloves. Gauze and thin wispy cheesecloth. A syringe. Antiseptic wipes. A stethoscope. A veritable jackpot of medical supplies. It almost seems weirdly prepared, until she spies the name tag hanging on a lanyard draped over the corner of the grimy mirror. It’s faded from sun exposure to the point where the picture and name are indistinguishable, but the letters RRGH were printed in a dark enough blue to still be legible, and a holographic foil emblem of a leaping fish is embossed on the back.

She pulls the lanyard from the mirror and hops onto the counter, heedless of the dust and bird shit coating it. She turns the name tag over in her hands, traces the outline of the fish logo. She doesn’t realize how long she sits there thinking until he comes to find her. When he says her name quietly she jumps.

“Sorry,” she mumbles, embarrassed. He raises an eyebrow, glances down at what she holds. Biting her lip, she lifts it for him to see.

“Argh,” he says, reading it phonetically. Despite herself she smiles at it.

“RRGH,” she corrects. “Riverrun General Hospital. Whoever lived here was a nurse or a doctor.” She leans down, kicks lightly at her pack on the ground. “They were very well stocked on equipment. Now we are too.”

Nodding in approval, he bends to go through her pack and look over their haul. She looks down at the name tag again. Runs her thumbnail over the raised lines of the fish. Softly, she tells him, “My mother used to work there, before she married my father. Sort of. She was on the board of trustees, I think. Her family were donors.”

His rummaging slows and then stops. When she looks back up he is watching her carefully. She doesn’t cry often. She smiles sadly. Shakes her head at him. She won’t cry today. Lifts the hand not holding the lanyard and runs her fingers through his hair. She doesn’t have to reach far to do it. He’s kneeling on the ground to look through her bag. It’s oily against her skin and longer than he prefers to keep it. They'll both need a cut soon. She wishes selfishly that the water had been running so they could bathe. He’s always happier when he’s clean. He catches her hand, brings it to his mouth and kisses her fingertips. He rises, kisses her mouth next. It’s gentle. Sweet, or as sweet as he can be. He is not a man to whom sweetness comes naturally. His lips move slowly against hers. It is meant for comfort, not passion. She feels a swelling of heat between her legs anyway.

He rests their foreheads together briefly. Then he moves away to continue going through the pack. She has learned to savor these moments when he is demonstrative of his affection. They are few and far between when the two of them are not naked and rutting like animals. He does not ask questions about her mother. She does not offer information. He knows what he needs to know and she keeps what she needs to keep.

She knows nothing about him as a person. Nothing at all. If his family is dead or alive. Where he came from. How he ended up a conscript of the Watch.

She can make assumptions. She’s pretty sure he used to be a hitman or something. She knows he was comfortable with killing before the outbreak ever happened, before wights were ever a thing. She knows that he knows more about guns than her brothers ever did. She knows he can do field surgery and has survival skills like the people that used to be on TV shows, except his skills are real. He told her once that the people he kept trying to contact with the sat radio were his employers across the sea. He seemed convinced that they'd come for him if they knew he was still alive. She believes him. He's not a man prone to sentimentality, to assigning things or people more value than they're worth. Not even himself. She'd asked if he was still technically on payroll and made a dumb joke about making sure he got backpay. It was stupid but he'd laughed. He doesn't laugh often. He did at first, when they were sort of hopeful the epidemic would blow over quickly. Somewhere along the way he stopped smiling so much. She likes his smile. She likes his laugh. She knows that at least.

She didn't ask him what would happen to her if his employers came for him. He's already left her once. It doesn't matter that he came back. She's useful right now. She may not be later. He's not sentimental and she's not an idiot.

She hangs the lanyard back on the mirror carefully, touches it to stop it from swaying. A relic of a world and life long gone. It seems sacred to her, almost. A testament to a living person who had hopes and dreams. She is more sentimental than he is. She didn't ask and she's not an idiot, but she hopes he takes her with her if he leaves. He's all she has now.

He inspects the bathroom behind her and she goes to the other side of the house to check out the rooms he'd searched. In the room she assumes to be an office she finds cords. USB cables to various electronics. Ethernet hookups. The cable to an old model iPod. She uses her baseball bat to break open the chassis on the old desktop and starts tearing the innards apart, pulling out copper wires and coils. The noise draws his attention and he peeks his head into the room to watch for a moment before leaving once more. He puts less stock in trading than she does but outposts that have power generators love electrical shit. He likes to be self-sufficient. She gets it. But other people might have luckier finds than them. Stupid not to cooperate.

Less of use in the guest bathroom than the master's, but this one isn't covered in animal turds and she grabs a few towels that he'd missed that had fallen behind the toilet. Towels are always tremendously useful. They try to keep a dozen at a time. Bandages, blankets, wraps for their shoes when they're trying to be quiet. Not ideal, but she can tear those up and use them in place of pads if she has to. The guest bedroom has extra sheets sealed up in a plastic covering in the closet. She drags this out and sets it by the door. He won't think to toss the sheets they currently have because they're still serviceable. He's weird like that. In another world without wights he'd be one of those guys who patched his clothes up when they had giant tears instead of replacing them. She rolls her eyes. It doesn't matter if their current sheets still work , they're covered in bloodstains and are worn thin.

In the closet she also finds a file cabinet. Curiosity begs her to open it so she does. Mostly it's empty but there's one folder inside filled with construction paper of a rainbow of colors, all crumpled and bent. She knows what's in it before she pulls it outs. A collection of a child's drawings, the linework wide and sloppy. One that she thinks might be a horse. One that's definitely some sort of Pokémon. One that looks like the house they're currently looting. Stick figures in crayon with too-big hands and too-big feet. A Picasso-esque rendition of a man, a woman, and a little girl. She assumes this because the smallest person, clearly the child, is wearing a pink triangle that's probably meant to be a skirt. They're standing together on a green field with little red flowers. The flowers have smiley faces drawn on them. The sun is also smiling and is wearing sunglasses. She used to do that when she was a kid, draw sunglasses on the sun. She thought it was cool. It's dated on the back, the way kids date things and pretend they'll be famous enough someday that someone will want to buy it. She doesn't know what year it is now, but it's dated a couple years before the infection hit.

There isn't a room in this house outfitted for a kid. Probably a grandchild. Probably dead now. Might be one of the wights in the basement downstairs.

She's sentimental. She takes the picture and folds it into neat little squares, sticks it in the back pocket of her jeans. She won't tell him about it. He won't appreciate it. Stupid girl.

In the stillness and silence of the house, she hears their phone vibrating across the kitchen counter where he'd left it. When she backtracks to find him, he's hauled a suitcase from wherever he found it to the kitchen and is kneeling on the floor, setting cans of food down into it gently and neatly. She turns his alarm off. He glances up at her. She raises an eyebrow in question. He nods.

His pack is in the living room, dropped by the old dusty couch. She opens it, rifles through until she finds the sat radio. Holds it in her hands for a moment.

Sometimes she still wants to use it. She's older now than she was last time. Smarter. She knows how to handle people better. She knows how to be afraid and how to turn that fear into caution. He thinks she's too sentimental. He thinks she might hear something on the radio that'll send her into the kind of fury she'd gone into with the Freys. He's practical. She's useful. She'll be less useful if she hurts herself. He wants her to stay useful.

He's a liar but she trusts him. She won't fuck with the radio today. Besides, she's lingered for too long already. If she doesn't bring it to him now he'll get suspicious.

He looks up from rearranging cans in the suitcase when she comes back into the kitchen. When she tosses him the radio he catches it. Turns it on. Clicks the microphone twice. Pip pip. She hops up on the counter, crunches from her tin of mixed nuts. She picks up a pecan, pauses with it poised at her lips. He likes pecans. She puts it back in the tin. They're a give and take. She wonders if that's what marriage is like. Not eating the pecans because someone else likes them. It's a stupid thought. She blushes. Good thing he's not paying attention.

Static on the radio. He hums thoughtfully, inspects the ingredients on the can of chunky beef stew. He's weird about what they eat, but he knows more than she does about preservatives and what's healthy for them to ingest after so much time has passed. It must pass inspection because he goes to put it in the suitcase.

"Wait," she says. He looks at her again. The eyebrow goes back up. She holds her hands out and after a moment he tosses the can to her underhanded. It's not a pop-top but she's got a can opener on her knife. She's had the knife for a while. It's one of those multi-purpose pieces of shit from Lys that goddamn everybody had a decade ago. It's also got a corkscrew and a little flathead screwdriver and a pair of scissors and a fish gutting knife and a sawtooth knife.

She took it from the body of the first man she'd ever killed. Just bad coincidence. They'd been silent, split up to loot a pharmacy and she'd stumbled on a stranger in the toiletries section. The guy drew first, but she shot before he did. She didn't even think about it. It was instinct. She shot the man in the chest and he crumbled. Then she shot him in the head, because he'd have come back as long as he had his head.

They had to leave the pharmacy without grabbing as much as they'd wanted because the gunshots drew the wights. That night, he'd had her describe it while he fucked her hard and deep. He came inside her when she gasped about how easy it was to pull the trigger. She'd seen him kill people before, he did it a lot. She just pretended she was him. It was like shooting a wight. No different. Easy. Instinct. After he came he went down on her and ate her out until she had to bite something to keep from crying aloud. He liked that she was dangerous too. They went back to the pharmacy the next day, once the wights had settled. When they split up again she grabbed some Plan B, dry swallowed it. In the toiletries section the dead man was still there with a big fucking hole in his head. Half his face was missing. Dried blood all over the floor, little grey bits of brain on the packages of toilet paper behind him. She did that. Some wights had gnawed on him. He was missing chunks of his arms. She searched his pockets and found the knife. She really, really likes that knife.

She uses it to open the can of stew. The fat from the meat makes it less of a broth and more of a congealed goo. It'd be better if she could warm it, but they weren't so lucky with the house that the kitchen came with a gas-top stove. It's fine. She's not picky. She opens drawers until she finds the one with silverware, wipes a spoon on her pants to get the dust off and digs into the stew. She can't remember the last time she had beef. She closes her eyes. She must make some kind of noise because when she opens them again he's watching her. He looks amused. Affectionate. It's an oh, you sort of look. She drops from the counter to the floor and joins him. Digs the spoon back into the stew, shovels out a good chunk of meat. When she offers it to him he leans forward and wraps his lips around the spoon, taking it.

They share spoonfuls. She feeds him while he sorts cans to some method of organization that she can't follow. He clicks the microphone on the radio again. Pip pip. Static. No one answers. No one ever does. After a few minutes he shuts the radio off. He turns to her, lifts a hand and touches her jaw with his fingers. He kisses her soft. It tastes like beef and carrots. He doesn't usually kiss her this much in a single day unless they're having sex. He must be in a good mood from the unexpected haul of supplies. He hums against her lips. She turns and sets the can of stew aside.

They still need to check out the basement and deal with the wights. They'll do it later. Right now they trade kisses instead. It's easy. Simple. Instinct. She slides further down and his knees rise. He leans back against the cabinets and she unbuttons his jeans. His cock is still mostly soft when she pulls it out, puts her tongue on the head. It tastes like sweat and the gentle soap of baby wipes. They can't bathe regularly but they keep their genitals clean. Don't want to risk a UTI. It starts to become more firm when she wraps her lips around it, licks the underside of the ridge. His fingers slide into her hair and grip. "Lovely girl," he murmurs.

She swallows. Sucks. Presses little kisses against it. Mouths at the juncture of his cock and his balls. Licks those too. They're warm and salty against her tongue. When he's completely hard she takes him back between her lips and lets him push her head down into his lap. He sits thickly in her throat. She breathes through her nose, the air mostly obstructed by his girth. The texture against the back of her tongue is soft but rigid. She exhales. It stirs his pubic hair and he rocks against her face lightly. She swallows again, muscles squeezing him. He purrs her name and grinds into her once more. It took a lot of practice before she could hold all of him in her throat like this. He was a patient teacher. She was an eager student. She moans and it vibrates and he moans too in reply. He's not usually vocal during sex except for when she sucks him off.

Her knees and back are starting to hurt from the pressure that kneeling in this position puts on them. He runs his hands through her hair again, nails scratching against her scalp. He grabs a handful and rocks. He directs the motion of her head, works his hips in tandem. His cockhead bumps the back of her throat, against the roof of her mouth, back into her throat again. When his length twitches she feels it jump against her lips. His testicles press into her chin. Her eyes are closed from the effort of concentration to not gag and she tries to keep her jaw relaxed.

He thrusts hard suddenly, pelvic bone bumping painfully into her nose. She chokes. He pulls out enough so that she can breath, so just the slick head of his cock is in her mouth. She presses her tongue to his urethra, tastes his pre while he fists what isn't between her lips and pumps it. He's close but not close enough and she suckles at his cockhead, swallows around it. She lifts her hands, puts one on his thigh and the other around his balls. Squeezes both hands lightly. He groans, loud. His feet shift restlessly against the floor, searching for traction to lift his hips higher. She moves with him, sucking, licking. She presses her own thighs together. Her cunt is slick with arousal. The wet noises of suction fill the room. He hisses her name again, grabs for her hand resting on his thigh. Twines their fingers together. She opens her eyes, opens her mouth so he can see himself come against her tongue, his seed pooling at the back of her throat before she swallows. He likes to see his come on her, in her, dripping out of her. On her tits or her thighs or her face, in her mouth or her cunt or her ass. He's not sentimental but he's possessive and kind of gross. It's fine. She doesn't mind. She likes it. She's possessive too.

He rests the back of his head against the cabinet as she cleans him with her mouth, licks the pre and the cum off him, whatever she wasn't able to swallow down. He mumbles something in Braavosi. She doesn't speak it but she's picked up some words from him. Mostly swears. Sometimes on the road he'll get bored and quiz her on how much her knows. Whatever he says now, her name is in there somewhere. She holds him in her mouth until he softens, until his hand in her hair gently pulls her away. He draws her up, kisses her again. His tongue pushes against hers, tasting himself on it.

They get her pants off and he lays back on the floor, lets her ride his face, her cunt slick against his lips and chin. He sucks on her clit in a mimicry of how she'd sucked his cock, spears his tongue inside her. When she grinds down against his mouth he squeezes the cheeks of her ass between his hands. It'll leave red palm-shaped marks that she'll never see but she knows he likes to look at, when they have time to fuck each other slowly. He laps at the folds of her vagina's outer lips, slips his middle and forefinger into the warm wetness inside. Licks where his fingers spread her open. When they're slick enough for his liking he takes them out, moves them up. Circles them around the tight pucker of her asshole. No penetration but the feeling of it makes her moan.

She bites her lip. Looks down. Forces herself to watch him. His own eyes are closed, brows furrowed. Concentrating. It's the look he gets when he knows they're going to have to shoot something soon. The look when all his attention and being is focused on the task at hand. The task at hand at the moment is fucking her with his mouth. She whimpers. Presses her cunt against him to seek friction. His hands spread her asscheeks slightly in response. One of his thumbs rubs her hip as if to soothe. She comes with his tongue shoved up her twat as high as it can reach. She has to forcibly restrain a fervent cry.

She knows he cares about her. As much as he can care. She has learned over the years that he is incredibly aware of the impermanence of flesh. He has a hard time seeing people as people. People are just walking, talking, shitting buckets of meat and blood to him. Helpful when it comes to killing other scavs and the odd Frey bandit that patrols the Riverlands. Less helpful when it comes to reliably working with the nicer survivors at outposts. She's useful, yes. She's immune. She can reach and touch wights, influence them to an extent. She can put herself into riskier situations than he can. If she gets bitten they only have to worry about the physical damage. But he doesn't have to keep her happy to keep her useful. She needs him more than he needs her and they both know it. He's smarter than she is. He has survival skills. He keeps them alive. She’d stay with him even if he didn’t keep her happy. She doesn’t have much choice.

But he does keep her happy. He doesn't push her to reach if she doesn't want to. He makes sure she comes too when he fucks her. He stops, the very rare times she asks him to stop. He gave her the Linebaugh even before they found the shotgun, even though he's a better shot. He wants her safe. He wants her happy. He cares about her. He's not sentimental and she knows he'll leave her if she stops being useful, but if she stays useful then he'll keep her. And maybe he'll take her with him, if he goes.

He drinks his fill from her cunt, pats her ass like you’d pat a horse or a dog. As if to say good girl, well done. She tries not to preen. Shimmies back into her pants, cracks open a bottle of water. They wash their mouths out of each other's taste, spit in the sink. She leans against his side and finishes off the stew while he wraps up taking inventory of their new suitcase full of food. They haven’t found a haul like this in a long time. He must be very, very pleased. Once he’s done he closes the suitcase, zips it up. He turns to her and presses a kiss to the tip of her nose. It wrinkles reflexively. His lips smell like her sex. “It’s time,” he says. It’s like an adrenaline shot. All traces of post-coital drowsiness burn away. He rises, helps her to her feet. She leaves the empty stew can on the counter with the spoon still in it. The inhabitants of the house haven’t cared about its cleanliness for a long time.

They work together to drag the heavy suitcase filled with cans into the living room. Set it beside the old couch where their packs are resting. The couch is leather, has held up surprisingly well compared to the rest of the furniture. It’s covered in a layer of dust. There’s an indent worn into one of the seats, the cushion sagging inwards still after all this time. Somebody used to sit there a lot.

He hangs the machete off his belt. Grabs his Linebaugh and their heavy-duty metal security flashlight, the kind that you could brain someone with if you got enough momentum when you swung it. They don’t use it often because workable batteries are getting hard to find. She takes her baseball bat. They really need to find her another gun soon. When they move the bookcase it squeals as it slides across the floor. He winces. Before he can ask she reaches . Getting more solid impressions is difficult without touching them, but she can feel where they are. Still in the basement. Not on the stairs. Somehow, despite all the noise they’ve made in the house, the wights still haven’t clued in to their presence.

Some wights are smarter than others. She doesn’t know how or why. He thinks it has something to do with how fresh they are. It makes sense. In the beginning, when the infection first hit, they had something almost like an animal intelligence. When they shuffled they shuffled in packs. They hunted, almost. They worked together in a way. And when they found prey they swarmed. They were only just recently dead then though, mostly. These days there’s a lot less people to eat, a lot less live bodies to turn. Most of the wights now are half-rotted and falling apart. They’re dumber now. They bump into things. They react slower. They’re easier to manipulate when she touches them, but they’re colder too, and hungrier. Fresh wights are smarter but it doesn’t make her shake as much to reach for them. It’s harder to pull completely back into herself with the older ones.

She draws away, returns to herself. Gives him a thumbs up. He nods, clicks his flashlight on. Carefully, slowly, he turns the knob on the door. Shines his light down the stairs for a split second before turning it off. The strobe effect leaves spots in her eyes from trying to adjust but it shows them that the stairs are intact and the wights aren’t waiting at the bottom of it. The basement smells like mildew and rancid meat. The air inside is stagnant and too warm. She barely restrains a cough. Readies her baseball bat. When he moves forward, puts one foot on the top step of the stairs, the wood creaks beneath his weight.

Something in the darkness below makes a wet rattling noise.

He shines his flashlight again, another split second. The bottom of the stairs is still clear. He takes another step.

He goes ahead of her. He’s got the gun. He’s a better shot, especially if they’ll have to try to shoot in the dark. She trusts him not to accidentally shoot her more than she trusts herself not to accidentally shoot him. One step. Another. Two more. The stairs are steep, the house built into the side of a hill and the basement dug into it. More gutteral gurgling. The wights know something is there, but not where. They can smell them, the warm blood in their veins. Reaching doesn’t alert to her presence unless she touches them too. Halfway down the stairs he sets his foot down onto a step, lifts the other one to keep moving. The wood splinters beneath his weight with a crack. The light streaming in from the open door behind them illuminates just enough for her to see him pitch forward briefly and then drop straight down. The step under him gives way completely, causing him to fall through it up to his waist. His legs have disappeared from sight to presumably dangle in the air, his arms braced against the step above and the step below. He makes a noise like he’s been kicked in the stomach.

Why doesn't he just drop down? It's six feet to the ground, if that. It'd be easier, safer, than holding himself up with his arms. His hips aren't wide enough for him to be stuck in the space between intact steps. He's holding himself in place with his forearms. Why? She can't ask him. There isn't time. It doesn't matter at this point. He's kept the gun but dropped the flashlight. It rolls, clunk clunk clunk, down the stairs, light spinning as it goes before landing with a click. The wights below are screaming. The flashlight blinks and then turns off. Everything is dark. She can't see. She needs to see. She reaches , touches, digs in. Sees.

The world is blue monochrome. Figures are more shadows than not, fractal, appearing both smaller and larger than they truly are. Like ice in her eyes. Wights see better in the dark than they do in the light. She doesn't know why. They're more active at night too. The sun makes them lethargic. They do better in the cold than the heat. For survivors, summer is the time for scavenging. Winter is the time for surviving. She smells blood, his blood. Why is he bleeding? No time, she's hungry. No she's not. She is! No she's not. They are. She sees herself descend from the stairs at a run. Through the wight's eyes she counts, counts the steps carefully, counts the lifting and falling of her feet. It's disorienting, watching herself move. Basing her movements off of a perspective outside of herself. Like watching a movie in real-time while also being an actor in it. Half of her mind is in her body and the other half is in the wight's. She's both of them at once.

He shouts her name but she doesn't care she's hungry. She's not! She's not hungry but they are. Not food , she tells the wight. It doesn't listen. It smells the blood. Where is the other wight? She can't see it, can't control the one she's dug into enough to make it look for the other one. Not if she wants to keep moving forward without losing her grip on herself. Tethered at the edge of a endless, fathomless hole. She's looking down inside it. What happens if she falls? What happens if she digs deep enough inside the wight that she loses herself? She prays the tether holds.

She watches herself lift the bat. She's cold. She's hungry! She's closer to herself than he is, she ignores his blood and reaches her rotting hands towards her body. She smells the blood inside her veins. Eat! She's hungry! Blue and dark she sees herself swinging the bat. She cracks herself in the skull. It hurts! She's hungry! If she eats it'll stop hurting!

Her fingertips were scraped down to the bone years ago. She claws at herself. It hurts it hurts! Blood on her arm, warm and blue. In her other body the sludge of what used to be blood drains from her nose and ears. Eat! She swings the bat again. Her lower jaw was hanging by the thinnest string of tendon and falls to the ground. What's left of her tongue flops limply from the remains of her throat. She can still eat! She claws! She kicks herself in the knee. The patella shifted out of place somewhere between the time she’d died and now and the joint collapses under her. She falls to the ground. She crawls! She watches herself raise the bat over her head. She uses weight and momentum to bring it down. She breaks open her own skull and splatters her brain into paste. She doesn't die. She was already dead.

She gasps, reels. Doesn't so much return to her own body as she is flung back into it. The world is dark again, black. Blue slips away in a blur from the edges of her vision. She's never been inside something when it died before. Her head feels like it's been split open. She's dizzy, nauseous. Freezing. Hungry. She wants to curl up on the floor and sleep for a year. She wants to eat and eat and eat and never stop eating.

She hears like through water the sound of him grunting in exertion. Hears like through water the angry snarling of the other wight. He needs her. She's useful. She reaches . Finds. Digs.

She's clawing her way up the stairs. Her legs stopped working a long time ago, she got hungry and ate them. They were dead they didn't matter. He smells like blood he's warm she wants it! She can't move the wight's head to look at herself, has to guess at where she's moving, has to guess where she's aiming. She sees through the blue the way he shifts, stuck up to his hips in the space where the step broke under him. He tries to aim the gun at her but when he loosens his grip on the stairs and slides an inch or so down he winces, gasps in pain. More blood. Why is he bleeding? She doesn't care! So hungry! She grabs his arm and pulls it forwards toward her face her mouth her teeth so close so close! He flails, rearing back, slipping further down! More blood! The ecstacy, sanguine, fire in his veins! So hungry! So cold! So close!

She drops the bat, grabs the fetid flesh of her thigh, tugs. Her rotten teeth snap a split second too late. She rips hair from his arm but no skin. No! She was so close! She wants to eat! She whirls and bites at herself instead. The motion upends her balance, sends both of her crashing down the stairs. He shouts her name again. She rolls, fights herself. Feels all four of her arms reaching, all four of her hands scratching. She bites herself. Blood! But it's wrong? Wrong blood. It's warm but it's wrong. She's wrong! Stupid girl! She reaches, strains, grabs the metal flashlight from the floor and drives it into her eyes. They pop, goo dripping from the sockets. The blue explodes into blackness. She lifts the flashlight again, slams it down again. Eventually her gurgling quiets but she still claws weakly.

She pulls back. Away. Into herself. Stops digging, stops touching, stops reaching . The world spins. Her gorge rises. No time to try to collect all the fragments of herself and piece them back together. The wight beneath her shudders violently, still trying to fight. She brings the flashlight down once more, twice more, three more times. She's not inside it anymore so she doesn't know which of the blows finishes it off but she doesn't stop beating it until it's head is a black smear on the concrete floor with sharp chunks of skull scattered around. She takes short, fast breaths and pushes herself to her feet. There are bits of teeth beneath her palms. Hair, tacky with blood and still attached to rotten scalp. She wipes it against her pants.

She takes a step, stumbles. She hears him struggling. She moves as if drunk towards the stairs. She killed herself. No she didn't. She killed a wight, but for a moment she was the wight she killed. No she wasn’t. She was wearing the wight. She wasn’t the wight. She’s herself. There's a difference. There has to be. She clings to it.

"Lovely girl," he breathes when she reappears in the radius of light cast from the open doorway above. Her fingers feel numb but she makes them turn on the flashlight, shine it to where his lower half has fallen through the stairs. When she sets it down to help him out he makes a hissing noise, cuts it off. He grits his teeth and with her assistance makes himself rise. She finally sees the injury. A nail from the frame of the staircase stuck into the meat of his thigh, a line torn up towards his hip from where he'd lost his grip and slid downward a few inches. It bleeds freely. If it'd been any deeper or climbed any higher it could have nicked the artery. That's why he didn't let himself fall. The blood made the wights frenzy. Shitty luck. No way they could have predicted the step would give way, or that the nail would get him. Nobody's fault. Sometimes you do everything right and it still doesn't matter.

The rest of the stairs held her weight before but they don't take chances. He is much heavier than she is. Limping and bleeding, he climbs back up the stairs. She follows. The wights are dead. Whatever is in the basement will keep another five minutes.

They strip his pants off, clean the wound. Thank fuck one of those wights down there kept the first aid kit so well stocked. Antiseptic, the hydrogen peroxide. It’s deep but not terrible. He could have broken his leg but he didn't. Small miracles. A cut is nothing. He’s had worse, she’s bandaged him up from worse. It’ll scar but they’re used to scars. He won’t care about that and neither will she. It bleeds. His jeans are soaked red to the knee. They’ll have to get rid of them. She gets their sewing kit from his pack. He has to stitch himself. The adrenaline has worn off and her hands are shaking violently.

After they clean up him they clean up her. The wight had bitten her arm. A death sentence for anyone else. Just a nasty bite for her. They disinfect it carefully. She’s immune to the infection of the wights but not immune to infection of the flesh and a wight’s mouth isn’t the most sanitary place. There’s a clear indentation of teeth in her skin. The wound doesn’t bleed until they irritate it with the cleaning. When they bandage it, it spots red in the shape of a mouth. She’ll have to be careful until it heals. If they run into other scavs and they see the wound they’ll shoot her on sight. Nobody will believe her if they say she’s immune. People have used that excuse with them before. Cried it, screamed it. They shot them anyway. Can’t take risks. They don’t know why she’s immune but she is. She thinks. She hopes. It’s just, she’s so hungry. She could eat all of the food they’d just found.  She could eat all the food in the world. When she unzips the suitcase holding their haul he doesn’t stop her.

Another can of stew, one of chicken. She needs protein. Craves meat. The rest of the mixed nuts. She eats the pecans and can’t care enough to feel bad about it. Caring is hard. The air stinks of blood. She has to get away from him. She’s not a wight. She’s not. She’s not. She just wore one for a bit. She’s her. She’s herself. She’s human. She’s alive alive alive. She’s so hungry. She wants to keep eating.

She leaves the house. He watches her go, doesn't stop her. Doesn't question it. She can't look at him, can't handle the possibility of suspicion on his face. Not when she feels so thin and fragile. Paces outside, breathes hard. It’s midafternoon and the Riverlands in summer is balmy. The air smells like warm dirt. The cicadas are screaming again. She focuses on that.

It’s fine. She doesn’t want to eat him. The wight did. She’s not a wight. The world outside is green and bright, the sunlight filtered in earth tones through the leaves on the trees. The only things that are blue are the things that are supposed to be blue. She counts them. The sky. The hydrangea bushes grown wild on the outside of the house. Her jeans. The little ceramic birdbath in the yard that’s been knocked over for who knows how long. See? They’re meant to be blue. The ice isn’t in her eyes anymore. They say when you get bitten and start to turn, that's one of the first things you notice. The hunger is first, obviously. But the color blue starts to take over. She's heard that people who are bitten and turn while they're still alive start mumbling about being cold and seeing blue.

She’s immune. She’s been bitten already. Several times. Nothing came from any of those. The wounds scabbed, some scarred. That was it. She stayed herself. The hunger and the cold was from reaching , not because she was infected. It doesn’t happen that fast. She knows it doesn’t. It takes hours, sometimes up to a day, for someone to turn. The hunger was just because she dug in so hard. That's happened before. Reaching makes her hungry even when she doesn't dig. It’s fine. She’s fine.

When she comes back into the house she’s embarrassed over her lapse of control, has trouble meeting his eyes. He’s still sitting on the floor of the living room in his boxers. He’s wiped the blood from his skin with more of the antiseptic wipes but the wound is still red and irritated. Instead of looking at his face and seeing whatever expression he may be wearing she cleans up the mess of food cans. Winces at how much she’d eaten. As carefully as they ration that should have lasted a while. The stew alone is supposed to be three servings and she’s had two cans today already. He’s very strict about sticking to the suggested serving sizes.

She swallows. Opens her mouth to apologize. He beats her to the punch. “Forgive this man,” he says softly. It surprises her into looking at him. His eyes are solemn. Mouth turned down. She shakes her head, confused. What is there to forgive? He didn’t do anything wrong. Not his fault. Just shitty luck. “Forgive me,” he says again. “Lovely girl.” When he lifts his arm in invitation it’s like absolution. She sits on the floor beside him again, a mirror of their position in the kitchen earlier. Tucks herself against his side. His arm drapes over her shoulder, pulls her close.

She presses her nose into the skin of his throat. He smells like sweat and blood and dust. She reaches , touches his warmth. Doesn’t dig, doesn’t settle into him like she did before with the wights. Just feels him. He’s alive. He’s alive. Bright and warm and alive. Ginger and cloves. A liar, but it doesn’t matter. It was so close. If she hadn't gotten to the wight first it would have bitten him. She can't lose him. She can't. She can't. She didn't. He’s alive and she’s alive. He kisses her hair. He’s not sentimental. She’s useful. He won’t get rid of her. She’s alive. He’s alive.

He breathes, she breathes. For now it’s enough.

 


 

The first time she was bitten was when the capitol evacuated. 

Her dad was the one that lobbied for citywide evacuation. The outbreak was still controlled then, still small isolated cases. Supposedly some minor airborne illness with rabies-like symptoms. Like the flu but it made you hungry and being hungry made you angry. Officials said to stay in your homes, keep your windows closed. Enjoy the break from work. Don't worry about it. It was being handled. Lies, of course. A cover up. Government wanted to keep it hush-hush. Her dad was trying to dig up the truth. Lawyers, you know? Her mom always said he’d stick his nose any place it didn’t belong. Yoren was working with him because he was part of the Watch. Anything wight-related was Watch business, even if the government was claiming it wasn’t wights. Wights were storybook monsters. Fabricated lies from North of the Wall to scare little kids into eating their vegetables and going to bed on time. The Watch was weird and paranoid and everyone knew it. That's why no one wanted to join.

Even after her dad had been gunned down it took a day or two for things to really go pear shaped. By the time they actually called to evacuate it was too late.

When they made the announcement Yoren grabbed her and ran. It was meant to be organized. What it ended up being was a shitshow. Half the people were rioting, looting. Taking advantage of confusion to smash windows and grab expensive electronics, clothes. Stupid petty shit. The smart people got guns. There were wights, but you couldn’t really tell they were wights. They weren’t rotting yet. They’d had to get from the heart of the city to the outer walls, where his big military convoy was. From Baelor’s on the Hill to the Gate of the Gods. They were on foot because the streets were clogged with traffic. By the time they got off Steel they passed more people covered in blood than not, more people drunk than not. Couldn’t tell a looter from a wight. Both were bloody, both stumbled around. Except that the wights had bright blue eyes and hungry expressions.

Yoren had her hand in his. He was tugging her along. It’d taken an hour of nonstop running from Baelor’s to get to the Gate and her legs were smaller than his. She was tired. She was scared. She was angry. Her dad was dead. Where was Sansa? She didn’t get it. Someone grabbed her hair. She still had long hair then. They yanked and she was torn from Yoren’s grip. When she turned to scream threats at whoever had grabbed her she saw it was a fat boy a bit older than her maybe with bright, bright blue eyes and blood around his mouth. He kept pulling her closer and she kicked at his knees. He bit her wrist hard, hard enough to break the skin. He chewed. She reached .

She didn’t know that’s what it was at the time. She just wanted to make him stop. She’d thought, leave me alone! And she’d thought it loud enough and hard enough that the wight heard it. It stopped chewing. That’s when Yoren shot it in the head. “Move, girl!” he’d snapped at her. She moved.

They didn’t know at first that it was a true infection. That people who were bitten became infected, turned into wights themselves. The propaganda that it was airborne was spread too well. Too little was known about wights, even at the Watch. When they got to the convoy Yoren doused the wound with rubbing alcohol because that’s all they had to disinfect it with. It was the worst pain she’d ever felt in her life up to that point. He bandaged her up. He cut her hair so it wasn’t so long, couldn’t be grabbed as easily again. A day or two passed before word spread around that it was a contagion, could be passed through saliva, and you’d turn into a wight yourself shortly after being bitten. Yoren understood the implications of this before she did.

She’d been bitten by a wight. She should have turned into a wight. She wasn’t a wight. The bite wasn’t festering. It was just a bite. It scabbed up and was a bit pinkish. That was it. That’s when he made the decision that he wasn’t just going to drop her off in Winterfell. He was going to take her to the Wall. She didn’t argue. Jon was at the wall. She wanted Jon.

She was still trying to figure out reaching . She didn’t tell Yoren about it. Too many urban legends as a kid about the Watch experimenting on people. She could reach out and touch people. Sometimes if she dug into them a little she could feel what they felt, see what they saw. Sometimes she got impressions of their emotions. Sometimes if she concentrated she could hear their thoughts. Wights were real and they weren't human. Maybe she wasn't human either. So she didn't tell him.

She would have, eventually. When she knew she could trust him. But she wanted to know why he’d suddenly changed his mind about where to take her. She reached and touched Yoren.

She’s immune. Fuck, she’s immune. Gotta get her to the Watch. Something in the blood? Keep her alive!

It ended up not mattering. Yoren died within the week. She met him . She stuck with him, and never left.

The second time she was bitten he was there and he saw it. It was a couple years after the outbreak. He’d been trying to hotwire a car so they could switch. The one they'd been driving had an oil leak. Hotwiring is never as easy as the movies used to make it look. It took time. She was keeping watch. It could have been worse. They were on the highway in the middle of nowhere, not in a city. This was after the incident with the Freys. He knew about reaching . She’d had to reach twice already that day and was trying to avoid doing it a third time. After she wore the wights that killed the Freys and had her seizure she’d get the shakes if she did it too much. That’s how the wights snuck up on her. They were fresher, smarter. Not half-rotted into stupidity yet. They moved quietly.

He had a Ruger then, not the Linebaugh. It had a nastier kickback. She shot the first one in the head. The Ruger cracked back from the force of the shot, popped her in the chin. She dropped the fucking gun. He came for her when he heard the shot. He didn’t have the machete yet either but they did have a fireman’s axe. Lost that somewhere along the way. The axe was too unwieldy to get a clean chop in the second wight’s neck. He got it between the shoulders instead. It went down, and once it hit the ground it grabbed her ankles and pulled her feet out from under her. It bit her calf. She kicked it in the teeth and backpedaled far enough that he could plant the head of the axe into the wight’s skull without threatening to hit her. Wouldn't matter if he had. He picked up the gun and pointed it at her anyway.

They’d been together for a while at this point. Long enough that even he hesitated with the shot. He shouldn't have, but she was glad he did. Easy to shoot someone you didn’t care about. Harder to shoot someone you’ve cultivated survival in the apocalypse with. He’s never been sentimental but she’s always been useful. To his credit they weren’t fucking yet.

“I’m immune,” she gasped. “I’ve been bitten before and it didn’t do anything. I swear!” He didn’t shoot but he didn’t lower the gun either. He’d shot people who told them that before. She used to feel guilty about that. She used to wonder if those people were telling the truth. She was. “What will it hurt if you wait and see?” She shook her head, imploring. “I’ll let you shoot me if I start to turn. I want you to shoot me if I start to turn.”

He decided that it didn’t hurt for him to wait and see. He had her get one of their towels, cut it into strips while he held her at gunpoint. Made her tie her ankles together. He put her face first on the ground, put his knee on her back while he tied her wrists behind her. She let him. She was positively meek . He didn’t sleep that night. Neither of them did. He was too busy watching her, and she was too busy praying she wasn’t wrong. The next day passed. When her stomach started to growl his grip tightened on the gun. “I’m just hungry,” she told him tiredly. “Just regular ol’ hungry.” He dragged her over to a tree, one thin enough to wrap the towel strips around. He lashed her to the trunk, cinched her throat tight against it so she could barely move her head. Leaned back as far as he could away from her and fed her pieces of canned chicken from the end of his scaling knife. It was nerve wracking. If she so much as twitched, if he hands were anything less than absolutely steady, the sharp blade would cut her tongue in half. She couldn’t reach to bite him if she wanted to. She did want to, but only because he was being incredibly annoying and not because she was turning into a wight.

When the next dawn broke she was still herself. Just tired and pissy and with a desperate need to take a shit. Her chin hurt from where the gun had smacked it. There was probably a bruise. He checked the bite. It was a little red but not swollen with infection. Normally when a wight bites someone the wound turns black with putrefaction within a few hours. The veins surrounding the bite swell, stick out from the skin grotesquely. The blood turns to sludge. Their eyes start to change color.

Hers was just a bite. Like some crazy had decided to have a taste.

He checked her eyes. Shined his flashlight into them. Testing the dilation, looking for traces of blue. He checked her pulse points, multiple ones. The carotid at her throat, temporal at her temple. Brachial at her elbow, radial at her wrist. Femoral at her groin. He stuck his hand down her pants for that one. His touch was clinical, never straying towards her genitals. His fingers still brushed through her pubic hair to find the artery. Her muscles jumped beneath her skin and he narrowed his eyes at her suspiciously. They weren’t fucking yet but that’s when she started getting ideas.

It took the rest of that day and another night for him to accept that it wasn't just a delayed reaction. That she wouldn't just turn more slowly than normal. The bite was scabbed over by then, barely pink at the edges. It itched like a catscratch. He untied her. "How?" he asked.

She shrugged. She didn't know. Said, "That's why Yoren was trying to get me to the Wall."

Life went on. It was just another way she was useful. They still shot on sight other scavs who had bite marks. He didn't show mercy and neither did she. No room for it. Couldn't take chances. She got bit a couple more times. Never on purpose. She just didn't have to be as careful about it as he did. She played bait a lot, was a distraction. He didn't like it but it was a usefulness she was willing to exploit and he didn't argue. The first few times he still watched her carefully afterwards. He never tied her up again, but he'd check her eyes and pulse points just like the first time. She didn't really understand the point of checking the pulse at multiple places but she didn't fight it. He stuck his hand down her pants a few more times. It was always very quick. He didn't linger. Didn't touch anywhere he didn't need to to find her femoral pulse. She still started to get ideas.

She'd never wanted to kiss someone before. She'd been barely more than a kid when the world had ended. She didn't get simpery or blushy or do any of those things that she remembered other girls doing at school when they had a crush on a boy. She just watched him sort of thoughtfully. She knew the mechanics of how sex worked. Any idiot kid with access to the internet did. She imagined how she thought that would go with him.

He was big. Bigger than her anyway. That wasn't saying much though, pretty much everyone was bigger than her. Muscley, but like a wiry sort of muscley. He had a nice face. He kept her safe and made sure she ate. She didn't know what his real name was but they trusted each other. If Yoren hadn't died and she'd had to choose between the two of them, she still would have gone with him. Nothing came of it, not for a while. He knew she watched him, and she knew he knew. He didn't really seem to care. Didn't welcome it, didn't dissuade it. Didn't sit her down and tell her it was inappropriate, didn't take advantage of it. They kept moving. Kept watching each other's backs. Life went on.

Eventually it came to a head. At a truck stop in the sticks of the Westerlands they stopped to top off their tank. They scouted, determined the place was empty. She went inside to hunt for supplies and he siphoned petrol from the abandoned cars littering the lot.

It was like the world's shittiest shopping trip. Soap, baby wipes, toilet paper. Toothpaste. He's always been a stickler about hygiene. Beef jerky. Some rope, thin nylon but better than nothing. Screwdrivers. She could file down a flathead and make it a shiv. Ibuprofen. Wonder of wonders but they had tampons. For being a dude he'd always been pretty blasé about her menstruation. The first time she'd asked her dad about puberty shit he'd stumbled over himself for several minutes before gruffly telling her to go talk to her mother about lady stuff . While she was stuffing as many boxes of tampons as her pack could hold something on the shelf caught her eye. Held it. Condoms.

To that point her musings on the how's and when's and what's of their hypothetical sex had been just that. Musings. Daydreams when she was bored. One or two actual dreams while she was asleep. Vague wants fueled by the way his hands encased her waist when he had to boost her up, the way his lips tilted up into a smirk when she made a wry comment he found amusing, the way his eyes narrowed and his face smoothed itself void of expression when he aimed his gun. He neither encouraged the attention nor discouraged it. It was stupid. Potentially ruining their working relationship. She needed him for survival. But wasn't that what men wanted? Sex? Something wet and tight for them to stick their cocks in? What better way to cement herself to him as necessary? Useful and willing to fuck.

Excuses. Dithering. She was embarrassed by her want and felt the need to justify it. He'd never needed justification from her before. That she wanted it should be enough for her. If he didn't that was his decision. If he rejected her it would be mortifying for a while but they needed each other. It wouldn't be the end of the world. They were already dealing with that. He'd be able to compartmentalize it. She should be able to as well. Life would go on. She grabbed the condoms.

It took a while longer before she worked up the courage. When she finally climbed into his lap one night after they'd secured the perimeter of their temporary safe house he didn't seem surprised. Not necessarily eager but not surprised. She kissed him. She could tell it was unrefined, inexperienced. He didn't react much beyond steadying her with a hand on her hip. She was about to give up and write it off as a loss, slink away to lick her wounds. He whispered her name against her lips. "Lovely girl," he called her. Asked gently, "Are you sure?"

When she kissed him again, he stopped her. Took her chin in his hands. Tilted her head slightly. Showed her how to do it right.

He showed her a lot of stuff that night.

 


 

(They got a pump action hunting rifle for their efforts and a box and a half of ammo. It’s heavier than it looks and not as suited for close range as the Linebaugh but worth the risk. Before they head out she takes the folded paper with the child’s drawing from her back pocket, drops it onto the body of one of the wights. It belongs with them, whoever they were. They can’t help that they died. Not their fault. Nobody’s fault. Shit happens. Back outside the basement she familiarizes herself with the rifle while he siphons petrol. There’s hardly any left in the car for them to take. Evaporation. He limps when he moves. He's not stupid enough to deny assistance when she lets him lean on her. Pride has no place in survival.

They leave. His leg heals. Her bite does too. Life goes on. They have nowhere to be and can take as long as they want to get there.

They keep heading south, driving parallel to the Mander. They stay inland, avoid the rivers. People congregate on the rivers. They pass by Silverhill, Goldengrove. The sweltering forests of the Riverlands shifts into the gentle rolling piedmont of the Reach. They stop and scavenge when they can. The food lasts a while. At some point they change the tire. They avoid wights and other survivors. They don’t talk much except for the times they do. The sun rises. The sun sets. She’s not even sure how old she is at this point. Life isn’t easy but it’s better than being dead.

They have a rhythm, a routine. They wake up, they wipe themselves down to keep clean, they eat. He counts their calories. They start the car and go. They picked up an atlas somewhere along the way. One of those huge old books filled with paper maps of the whole continent that show a bunch of roads, not just the major highways. She sets it in her lap and plays navigator. They follow rusted road signs and change directions at a whim. After a few hours they stop and pull out the solar panel to charge the sat radio and their phone. The alarm goes off. He turns the radio on and clicks the microphone twice. Pip pip. No one answers. She used to ask him what the point was but she doesn’t anymore. He’s allowed his eccentricities. They get back in the car and keep moving. Eventually they stop and find a safe spot to sleep. Sometimes they can't find somewhere safe. Sometimes they have to kill some wights first. The next morning they wake up and do it all over again. Where they’re going doesn’t matter but they never stay in one place for long. Tourists on a road trip at the end of the world.

She never had lofty goals or aspirations for her life. Never had a plan for what she’d do when she grew up. Probably for the best considering what happened. She didn’t have dreams to give up when the infection hit. She was still so young when it happened. She’s basically grown up in the apocalypse. The life she lives now with him is the best that she could imagine for herself given the circumstances. Safety and reliability with someone she trusts.

Sometimes they fuck and sometimes they don’t. They don’t have to do it constantly. They can go days without sharing so much as a kiss. She doesn’t mind. Necessity demands they live in each other’s pockets. She’s useful. She never feels unwanted .

She might love him, she thinks. She’s not sure. Doesn’t have much basis for comparison. She’s only ever loved family before him. She relies on him, certainly. He’s the only constant she’s had since her dad died. If she had to choose anyone she’d choose him. Maybe Jon… but no, she wishes Jon were still alive but she doesn’t think she’d have done well at the Wall. Maybe she’s selfish for that. But they work well together. She likes to think that, anyway. She likes to think that he wouldn’t have this easy chemistry with anyone else. She doesn't think she would.

Maybe that’s what love is. Maybe it’s safety and reliability. Maybe it’s trust. Maybe it’s being able to share a car with someone on a daily basis for years without strangling them. Maybe it’s not eating the pecans because you know they like them. Maybe it’s existing in their space silently without requiring their attention to be happy. Maybe it’s the soft kisses. The hard fucks. The way they hold you and you know that they’d do everything in their power to keep you safe. The way you hold them and know you’d do the same. Maybe that’s what love is. Maybe that’s love.

She doesn’t know. She’s not sure. Stupid girl.

The road keeps going. The sun keeps rising. They have nowhere to be and can take as long as they want to get there. She’s got time to figure it out.)